Freezing rain hits Western Pennsylvania, many accidents reported
A trace of rain froze as it hit the ground Saturday, forming a paper-thin sheet of ice that caused slip-and-fall accidents and hundreds of vehicle crashes on slickened bridges, overpasses and ramps that clogged emergency rooms and snarled traffic.
Allegheny County sent out 1,600 weather-related dispatches between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., county spokeswoman Amie Downs said. Beaver County dispatchers took 600 emergency calls, officials said.
Pileups involving at least 10 vehicles occurred on the Elizabeth Bridge, as well as the Westinghouse Bridge in McKeesport. A 12-car crash slowed traffic on Route 30 near Ligonier early Saturday afternoon. Bridges in Monessen, Rostraver and Allegheny Township in Westmoreland County were especially treacherous, authorities said.
Injuries ranged from minor to serious, hospital officials said. UPMC McKeesport asked all available personnel to report, a spokesman said.
“I didn’t think it was going to be that bad today,” said fan Toni Ferruzza of North Fayette, who traveled with her husband, Jeff, to the North Side for the University of Pittsburgh football game. Police cars parked on nearly every overpass along the Parkway West, and cars were backed up at the Interstate 79 interchange, she said. “I was shocked.”
A flash freeze made roads slick, said National Weather Service meteorologist Rihaan Gangat.
Only 0.002 of an inch of rain fell in Moon, he said, and 0.003 of an inch at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.
The air temperature was in the 30s when the rain started to fall about 10 a.m., but the ground was well below freezing. The low temperature had been 15 degrees at 3:30 a.m. Saturday. As the moisture hit the pavement, it quickly froze, Gangat said. By 4 p.m. the air temperature had hit 46 degrees, and police were reporting no problems.
Pittsburgh road crews did not put down deicing material in advance of the rain, city Public Works Director Mike Gable said.
Since roads were dry at that time, motorists would have pushed the material off the roads before they iced over, he said. Crews monitored the rain as it advanced from Ohio.
“It was dissipating as it crossed the border,” Gable said. “It was more of a mist, and there weren’t problems systemwide. It was certain bridges and ramps.”
Most reports centered around the Glenwood Bridge, Liberty Bridge, West End Circle, Birmingham Bridge, the 31st Street Bridge, a Bigelow Boulevard ramp between Sixth Avenue and Washington Place and the Bloomfield Bridge, according to city officials.
Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Pittsburgh emergency responders got 55 calls for accidents, with up to 20 requiring medical assistance, police spokeswoman Sonya Toler said.
Mayor Bill Peduto, who is attending the National League of Cities Congress of Cities in Austin, had been in touch with Gable and Pittsburgh Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa throughout Saturday, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said.
Allegheny County crews pretreated bridges Downtown with salt beginning about 9 a.m., said county interim Public Works Director Steve Shanley, and then county roads by using 14 trucks.
Allegheny County reported handling about 200 accidents.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries when their fire truck rolled over on a ramp to the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge. Another fire truck was struck in Aspinwall, and one on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, dispatchers said.
Beaver County reported 77 accidents; Butler, 45; Washington, 60; and Westmoreland, nearly 30.
Other people suffered injuries from falls, dispatchers said, though those numbers were not available.
UPMC McKeesport activated a “Level I” alert about 11 a.m. because the number of patients coming into the emergency department from weather-related accidents was picking up, spokesman Chuck Finder said. About 1 p.m., the hospital stepped up its alert to “Level II,” which Finder said activates all available personnel to come to work. The hospital’s alerts ended by about 4 p.m., he said.
UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland treated more than 20 patients from weather-related crashes or falls, said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s chair of emergency medicine. The injuries were serious, but he could not provide specific details. Yealy was unable to supply numbers for UPMC Mercy, which also has a trauma center.
Allegheny Health Network hospitals experienced a “steady and heavy flow of patients” from accidents, spokesman Dan Laurent said. Injuries ranged from minor to “serious trauma.” He was unable to say how many patients were treated by the network’s six hospitals.
Icing occurred in isolated patches across Allegheny County, mostly in elevated locations, PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said.
“Route 28, I-79, Route 65, Parkway West — most of those closures were ramps, overpasses, bridges,” he said.
Westmoreland County had mostly-minor accidents, emergency workers said, with no major injuries reported.
“Almost every major bridge, we had wrecks on,” said Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety shift supervisor Ed Milliron.
Donna Hamilton, a nursing supervisor in the emergency room at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison, said that as of about 2:15 p.m., people had been brought in with minor injuries from three motor vehicle accidents while another 16 were injured in slip-and-fall incidents.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or [email protected]. Staff writers Brian Bowling, Alex Nixon, Tom Yerace and Jacob Tierney contributed to this report.